Farmland outside of San Juan Bautista. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Farmland outside of San Juan Bautista. Photo by Robert Eliason.

At their regular meeting on April 19, the San Juan Bautista City Council declared a state of emergency due to the drought and imposed a series of conservation measures on residents and businesses that will become effective May 1. 

The measures are intended to produce a 25% reduction in water use for the city and follows the May 2021 adoption of a 15% voluntary reduction in water use by 41 California counties including San Benito and a March 28, 2022 executive order issued by Governor Gavin Newsom mandating water boards statewide to consider further reducing consumption.

Other local water agencies have also adopted Stage II of the Hollister Urban Area Water Shortage Contingency Plan and will take effect the first week of May. 

In his presentation, City Manager Don Reynolds quoted a letter he received from Shawn Novack, conservation program manager of the San Benito County Water District (SBCWD), saying that the water supply for all Central Valley Project service contractors, including SBCWD, would be reduced to public health and safety uses only.

Water uses forbidden under the restrictions include:

  • Any landscape watering other than Mondays and Thursdays or between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.
  • Washing down sidewalks or driveways
  • Watering outdoor landscapes in a manner that causes excessive runoff
  • Washing vehicles with a hose, unless the hose is fitted with a shutoff nozzle
  • Operating a decorative water feature unless the water is part of a recirculating system
  • Serving water to customers in restaurants other than by request
  • Laundering towels in a hotel or motel without offering an option not to launder them
  • Watering within 48 hours of measurable rain

“Measurable rain,” according to the National Weather Service, is any amount of precipitation that is equal to or greater than 0.01 inches in a day.

Reynolds said the restrictions would apply to water use by the city, including watering the lawn in front of City Hall and irrigation at city parks.

The city is withholding enforcement of the declaration until the public can be made aware of the terms, which will be done through a notice that residents and businesses will receive with their May water bills that outlines the restrictions and penalties.

Currently, the penalties are set by a previous ordinance. Penalties will increase with multiple violations. The first offense will result in a $50 penalty, the second will result in a $100 fine, and for three or more offenses the penalty will increase to a maximum of five $100 fines per day.

The City Council agreed to consider setting penalties more in line with those imposed by SBCWD, with the first offense getting a written warning, the second getting a $100 fine, the third getting a $250 fine, and the fourth getting a $500 fine and the installation of a flow restrictor at the customer’s expense. 

This is the first water shortage state of emergency declared by the city since the drought of 2015, Reynolds said. The declaration follows the rapid melt of the Sierra snowpack, which supplies 30% of the state’s water supply and a key source of water for Central Valley Project reservoirs, including the San Luis Reservoir. 

On Dec. 30, the snowpacks were estimated at 160% of the historical average for that date, which seemed to bode well for the local water supply. However, by April 4, the snowpacks had dwindled to only 33% of the historical average for that date. 

Rainfall is also a factor, with precipitation for January through April at a four-year low:

  • 2019: 8.58 inches through April 30
  • 2020: 5.96 inches through April 30
  • 2021: 6.03 inches through April 30
  • 2022: 1.97 inches through April 26 

The authority for these measures comes from Section 350-359 of the California Water Code, which allows cities to declare “a water shortage emergency condition to prevail within the area whenever it finds and determines that the ordinary demands and requirements of water consumers cannot be satisfied without depleting the water supply for human consumption, sanitation, and fire protection.”

There is no expiration date on the measure and Reynolds said it would stay in effect until the drought is declared ended, which would require Newsom to rescind the state of emergency he declared on May 10, 2021.


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